Modern Family Stars Who Have Sadly Died

Television has churned out a seemingly endless stream of sitcoms featuring families — some iconic, most long since forgotten. In recent years, a series came along that cleverly and creatively reimagined what a family sitcom could be, ABC's "Modern Family." Debuting in 2009 and running for 11 hit seasons, the series followed the multigenerational adventures of the three very different families: Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill) and far-younger wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), her son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and the son they had together, Joe (Pierce Wallace and Jeremy Maguire); Jay's daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen), her husband Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), and their three kids, Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter), and Luke (Nolan Gould); and Jay's son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and his husband Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet), along with their adopted daughter, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons). 

Over the course of 250 episodes — and, let's not forget, 22 Emmy wins — viewers followed the exploits of the Pritchetts, the Dunphys and the Pritchett-Tuckers. As one of television's hottest series, "Modern Family" had its pick of guest stars, an eclectic and star-studded list that ranged from Nathan Lane, to Barbra Streisand, to Kevin Hart, to Jesse Eisenberg, to Edward Norton.

Sadly not every actor who appeared on the show is still with us.

Norman Lloyd

Veteran stage and screen actor Norman Lloyd guest-starred in a 2010 episode of "Modern Family," playing an elderly philanderer befriended by Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) at the mall.  Prior to his death in 2021 at the age of 106, Lloyd enjoyed a prestigious career that extended from the 1930s until his final screen role in 2015, co-starring with Amy Schumer in "Trainwreck." 

Over the course of that lengthy career, Lloyd was directed by such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock ("Saboteur" and "Spellbound") and Orson Welles, as a member of Welles' now-iconic Mercury Theater, and also worked with Charlie Chaplin (in 1952's "Limelight"), and French auteur Jean Renoir (1945's "The Southerner"). Lloyd's other big-screen work included "Dead Poet's Society," "The Age of Innocence," and many more, while his extensive television credits included "St. Elsewhere," playing Dr. Daniel Auschlander for the entirety of the series' run. Lloyd also appeared on Broadway, starring in 12 productions and directing two. In addition, he also carved out a parallel career behind the scenes, as a producer and director, producing 40 projects for film and television, and sitting in the director's chair 24 times.

"Norman had a great third act, with an annual birthday party until age 105 filled with notables," Lloyd's longtime friend, Dean Hargrove, told Deadline. "He was active until the end, steeped in great stories about the early days of Hollywood and New York theater."

Ray Liotta

Ray Liotta appeared in a 2016 episode of "Modern Family," titled "Playdates." In the episode, Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) cashes in the "Uncle Mitchell's Birthday Funday" coupon that the Dunphy kids gave him for his birthday, leading to a hunt for Barbra Streisand's house; because the map of stars' homes is out of date, they wind up meet the home's current owner, Liotta, playing himself. While Mitch is starstruck, the kids have no idea who Liotta is since they haven't seen any of his films. 

Liotta, of course, had a long and prosperous Hollywood career before his "Modern Family" stint, having appeared in such movies as "The Many Saints of Newark," "Field of Dreams," "The Rat Pack," "Cop Land," "Something Wild," "Hannibal," and, in arguably his most memorable performance, Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." Liotta died in his sleep in May 2022, at the age of 67; the cause of death was eventually determined to be respiratory failure brought about by atherosclerotic disease.

In an interview with NPR's "Fresh Air," conducted shortly after his "Modern Family" appearance, Liotta reflected on the joke centered on the Dunphy kids not recognizing him. Admitting his career had experienced its ups and downs, he admitted, "I like it much better being up." He also admitted that the real thrill he got from acting was taking on projects that challenged him and pushed his growth as an actor. "I really believe that you never stop learning," he said. "And you never really ever get there."

Kobe Bryant

When Kobe Bryant died in a 2020 plane crash at the age of 41, he was recognized as one of the greatest basketball players in the game's history. During his 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant led the team to five NBA championships, and retired with the third-most points scored in NBA history (although that record was broken by LeBron James, the day before Bryant's death).

Bryant also appeared in several films and TV series, almost always playing himself. That was the case when he guest-starred in a 2010 episode, titled "Family Portrait." The first season's finale, one thread of the plot found Phil (Ty Burrell) and daughter Alex (Ariel Winter) joined by his stepmother-in-law, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), and her son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), in L.A.'s Staples Center to take in a Lakers game. Seated close to the court, Phil frantically tries to catch Bryant's attention — but freezes when he actually does, and can't think of anything to say beyond, "Do you like being a basketball player?" Bryant responds with a piece of advice, telling Phil, "A little preparation next time. It's a mental game."

Burrell recalled that Bryant appeared to be a fan of the show. "So maybe a guy like Kobe is supporting it because it's something that he's enjoying with his kids," the actor told ESPN

Fred Willard

When it came to delivering big laughs in a small role, Fred Willard was the undisputed king. During a career boasting 318 screen credits, Willard was the secret comedy sauce in such films as "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle," and the series of ensemble comedies he made with director Christopher Guest, including "Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind," and "Waiting for Guffman." He also appeared in a jaw-dropping number of television shows, ranging from "The Love Boat," to "Murder, She Wrote," to "Roseanne," to "Friends."

Arguably his most memorable, however, was the recurring "Modern Family" role of Frank Dunphy, quirky father of Ty Burrell's Phil, making 14 appearances throughout the series' 11-season run. In a ironic twist of fate, Frank died on the show in an episode that aired in January 2020. Just four months later, in May, Willard died at the age of 86.

"I loved when I knew I was going to work with Fred, because a day with Fred meant somebody who was always prepared, somebody who was always going to bring extra stuff to the table, somebody who never added drama off-screen. He was just a completely low-maintenance person and somebody who off-screen was really kind and funny," Burrell told Entertainment Weekly after Willard's passing. "Fred didn't create an earnest oblivious character — that has existed for forever — but he perfected it, in my opinion."

John Heard

Prior to his death in 2017 at age 71, John Heard was among the most sought-after character actors in Hollywood. His list of credits is as extensive as it is eclectic. Among the most memorable are: the shockingly forgetful father of Macaulay Culkin's character in "Home Alone;" a helpful bartender in Martin Scorsese's dark comedy "After Hours;" a toy company exec who became jealous of Tom Hanks' character in "Big;" a Vietnam veteran who stumbles upon a deadly conspiracy in "Cutter's Way;" a photographer who discovers "cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers" in the shlock-horror classic "C.H.U.D.;" and a corrupt New Jersey cop in "The Sopranos." 

Heard also guest-starred in a 2014 episode of "Modern Family," titled "The Feud." Heard portrayed Gunther Thorpe, father of Phil Dunphy's nemesis, Gil Thorpe (played by Rob Riggle). Viewers discovered the titular feud  is a multigenerational one when Gil's son faced off against Phil's son, Luke (Nolan Gould), at a wrestling match, with Gil mocking Phil and Gunther taking some shots at Jay (Ed O'Neill) while they all attend the match.

In Heard's final interview before his death (which took place two days after he underwent back surgery), he spoke with actor Ileana Douglas for her "I Hate Dennis Hopper" podcast. "He was filled with optimism and hope that he would get this back surgery and begin to start working again! That's where he was happiest," Douglas wrote of their conversation on Facebook. "Like any actor, he just wanted a job."

David Brenner

David Brenner was no stranger to comedy fans in the 1970s and '80s. A beloved standup comic, Brenner was a talk show staple — and a favorite of Johnny Carson; in fact, he set a record for having more "Tonight Show" appearances under his belt than any other guest — a whopping 158 — and guest-hosted for Carson 75 times. 

In addition to all those talk show appearances, Brenner also dabbled in acting, with just six screen credits. These range from his 1976 sitcom, "Snip" (which was cancelled before it actually aired) to his final acting role, in the 2010 episode of "Modern Family" titled "My Funky Valentine." Brenner's character wasn't much of a stretch, given that he was portraying himself, with the episode featuring Jay (Ed O'Neill) taking Gloria (Sofia Vergara) to see him perform standup comedy. During his routine, Gloria catches Brenner's eye, and he thanks her for bringing her father to the show. When Jay explains that he's her husband, Brenner unleashes a barrage of zingers. "What's it like to be married to someone who was there when the Bible was written?" Brenner asks Gloria. As Brenner continues needling Jay over his age, he becomes increasingly irritated, while Gloria laughs uproariously, until Jay gets up and leaves. 

Brenner was 78 when he died in 2014. As Brenner's publicist told The Hollywood Reporter, his final request was "that $100 in small bills be placed in his left sock 'just in case tipping is recommended where I'm going.'"

Philip Baker Hall

Philip Baker Hall was known to filmgoers for his roles in "Magnolia," "Boogie Nights," and "Rush Hour." Hall also appeared on Broadway, in a 2000 revival of David Mamet's "American Buffalo." However, it was a comedic role in "Seinfeld" that may well be his most memorable, a library cop — with the improbable surname Bookman — who's investigating a book that Jerry Seinfeld checked out in 1971 and never returned. "I mean, every actor has to deal with this, but I've played so many roles both in theater and on film — and when I say 'so many,' we're talking a few hundred — but the one that's most often mentioned with my name is Bookman," Hall told The A.V. Club in a 2012 interview.

Hall also had a recurring role on "Modern Family," playing elderly Walt Kleezak in three episodes, one in the second season, and two in the third. Walt was a neighbor of the Dunphys, who becomes something of a mentor to Luke (Nola Gould). Walt's storyline ends on an emotional note when the character dies. "Frankly, Walt was created to die," "Modern Family" exec producer Danny Zuker said in a 2012 interview with Futon Critic. The story, he explained, was based on the real-life experience of series co-creator Steve Levitan, whose son became friendly with an elderly man who passed away. 

Following his "Modern Family" story arc, Hall appeared in several more TV series and films before his death in 2022, at age 90.

Orson Bean

Ray Liotta and Barbra Streisand (her voice, at least) weren't the only guest stars to appear in the 2016 "Modern Family" episode titled "Playdates." Gloria (Sofia Vergara) organizes a grown-up "playdate" for her and Jay (Ed O'Neill), with another couple with whom she felt they shared similarities: an octogenarian named Marty (played by Hollywood veteran Orson Bean), who has a much-younger wife and a young son around the same age as Joe, son of Jay and Gloria. 

Bean had an extensive film and television resume prior to "Modern Family," appearing in a vast array of films, ranging from director Otto Preminger's 1959 thriller "Anatomy of a Murder" to the 1999's "Being John Malkovich." Following his "Modern Family" guest spot, Bean booked roles in such TV series as "Teachers," "Superstore," and "Another Period." Bean was also a frequent guest on TV talk shows, making 91 appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." It was on game shows, however, where Bean really made his mark, appearing in a whopping 931 episode of "To Tell the Truth" during its original run from 1963 to 1969, more than 130 in that show's revival, from 1969 to 1975, and a few more in the 1991 reboot. He was also seen in "Match Game," "Tattletales," and "Super Password."

Bean, who was married to "The Wonder Years" alum Alley Mills, died in 2020 at the age of 91, after being struck by a car while crossing a Los Angeles street.

Elizabeth Peña

Elizabeth Peña landed her breakthrough role in 1987 music biopic "La Bamba," playing the girlfriend of doomed rocker Ritchie Valens. Other notable films have included "*batteries not included," "Blue Steel," and "Rush Hour," along with a starring role in TV series "Resurrection Blvd." Among her many guest-starring roles on television was Peña's two-episode stint on "Modern Family" in 2013. Peña portrayed Pilar Ramirez, Colombian mother of Sofia Vergara's Gloria. Pilar first appeared in the Season 5 episode "Fulgencio," then returned for "The Old Man & the Tree" in the sixth season. 

"There's a bit of a competitive relationship between Gloria and her sister that will be fun," executive producer Christopher Lloyd told Entertainment Weekly. of Peña's role. "The mother is the formidable, domineering character in the family, and has a complicated relationship with Jay (Ed O'Neill). I'm not sure she's ever completely accepted Jay, and they lock horns in the episode."

Peña died the following year, at age 55. According to USA Today, among the four causes of death listed on the death certificate were "cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol."

Jackson Odell

Actor Jackson Odell first appeared on "Modern Family" in the series' first season, playing Ted Durkas, a student at the school attended by Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke (Nolan Gould). Ted also reappeared in the fourth season, in an episode in which Manny accidentally sets off a school fire alarm and causes all the kids to miss an exam. In addition to "Modern Family," Odell's other screen credits included "iCarly," "The Fosters," "Arrested Development," and "The Goldbergs." Odell was also a singer, songwriter, and musician, who shared his music on his own YouTube channel. 

Odell reportedly struggled with addiction, and was living in a sober living house when he was found dead in 2018 at the age of 20. "The Odell family has lost our beloved son and brother, Jackson Odell, on Friday," Odell's family wrote in a statement posted on what was then known as Twitter. "He will always be a shining light and a brilliant, loving and talented soul [...] We are now going to try to make sense of our immeasurable loss privately. We will not be making anymore statements."

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Odell's death was an accidental overdose, with tests detecting toxic levels of cocaine and heroin. 

Ann Morgan Guilbert

When Ann Morgan Guilbert died at age 87 in 2016, she was something of a TV legend for having appeared as neighbor Millie in iconic sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show" from 1961 to 1966. After that, Guilbert remained a frequent guest star on various TV series throughout the decades, ranging from "Cheers," to "Murder, She Wrote," to "Home Improvement." She experienced something a television comeback when she was cast in the recurring role of Yetta Rosenberg, Fran Fine's (Fran Drescher) wacky grandmother on "The Nanny." Guilbert was featured in the 2013 "Modern Family" episode "ClosetCon '13," in which Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) visit Cam's family at their Missouri farm. Guilbert played his grandmother, Grams.

In a 2010 interview with Stanford Magazine, Guilbert looked back at being part of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," not realizing at the time they were making television history. "The most fun of doing it was sitting around the table with the writers; they were hysterical," she said.

Beatrice the Bulldog

Arguably one of the most beloved characters on "Modern Family" wasn't a human. That would be Stella, the French bulldog who was the apple of Jay's (Ed O'Neill) eye, but barely tolerated by his wife, Gloria (Sophia Vergara). 

Stella was played by canine actor Beatrice, who joined the series in its fourth season. Interestingly, another dog, named Brigitte, originally played Stella, but was replaced after the dog's owner reportedly got into a spat with producers. Beatrice sadly died just weeks after taping the series' final episode.  

According to Beatrice's trainer, Guin Solomon of Good Dog Animals, the dog's rapport with the actors who played her owners mirrored the onscreen relationship with their characters. "Ed O'Neill is in love with her!" Solomon told Bodie on the Road. "It's very easy working with him because he brings Beatrice treats like popcorn and always looks out for her — like we'll be doing scenes in the backyard by the pool and in between takes he'll say, 'Would you please get Beatrice an umbrella, she's in the sun!'" Vergara, on the other hand, is not a dog lover, and her character's standoffish treatment of Stella didn't require much acting. "She's from Colombia so dogs are dirty to her," Solomon explained. "She wasn't that thrilled when Stella was [...] introduced to the show so we respectfully keep our distance!"